By Jamie Li
January 15, 2023
UPDATED 12:00 PM EST
[Photo Credit: NASA]
NASA’s Orion returns to Earth after a successful trip circling the moon. It splashed down west of Baja California, in the Pacific Ocean, on December 11, 2022, finishing the Artemis I flight test. The uncrewed spacecraft traveled more than 1.4 million miles, in preparation to send humans to the moon on Artemis II.
What are the Artemis missions?
After 50 years after the final Apollo mission in 1972, NASA is once again attempting to send people to the moon. The Artemis mission will mark the first woman and person of color to step onto the moon. Furthermore, Orion signifies the beginning of NASA’s plan for a sustained human presence on the moon, in preparation for humans traveling to Mars. Artemis I is the uncrewed flight test of Orion and the space launch system around the moon. Next, Artemis II will be a crewed flight test of Orion and the Space Launch System around the moon. Finally, Artemis II involves planning periodic Artemis missions with crews around and on the moon.
[Photo Credit: NASA]
What is NASA’s Orion?
Orion is the spacecraft NASA used for the Artemis I mission, an uncrewed spacecraft. After Orion successfully launched the Space Launch System rocket on November 16, the spacecraft flew within 80 miles of the lunar surface. Moreover, Orion traveled around 269,000 miles from Earth, the farthest a crew-capable spacecraft has voyaged from Earth. Additionally, Orion stayed in space longer than any other spacecraft that is designed for humans, without docking at the space station. Orion withstood the harsh conditions of deep space, proving its ability for Artemis II.
NASA team members removing Orion from USS Portland [Photo Credit: NASA]
Orion Splashing Down
Originally, the coast of San Diego was where the spacecraft planned to splash down. However, the weather forecasts caused the flight director to change Orion’s trajectory. Additionally, Orion used a skip reentry, which is similar to that of a stone skipping over. Orion descended partly into the atmosphere, then skipped forwards and upwards before completely entering the atmosphere. As Orion raced through the atmosphere at over 25,000 miles per hour, parachutes inflated, causing the spacecraft to slow to 20 miles. When Orion splashed down, bags inflated, ensuring the spacecraft stayed afloat in the water. The USS Portland retrieved the spacecraft, which arrived at the U.S. Naval Base San Diego on December 14, 2022. Afterwards, NASA will conduct a thorough analysis conducted on Orion. One example of an analysis is the Biology Experiment-1, which flew on the Orion. Orion carried plant seeds, algae, yeast, and fungi to space for the experiment. The goal is to study the effects of space radiation before sending humans to the moon.
The success of Orion marks the beginning of a long but bright future. Looking forward, Artemis 2 is planning to launch in 2024.
Dodson, Gerelle. “Splashdown! NASA’s Orion Returns to Earth After Historic Moon Mission.”
NASA, NASA, 11 Dec. 2022,
Dunbar, Brian. “Artemis.” NASA, NASA, https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/.
Fairley, Tiffany. “Artemis I Update: Orion Offloaded from USS Portland in Preparation for
Transport to Kennedy Space Center.” NASA, NASA, 14 Dec. 2022,
Luabeya, Monika. “Orion Comes Home to Earth.” NASA, NASA, 12 Dec. 2022,
Skibba, Ramin. “The Orion Moon Capsule Is Back. What Happens Next?” Wired, 12 Dec. 2022,